People helping people
Better health through peer coaching

The following article is from the SANE Australia newsletter, Winter 2015 edition  (pages 4 and 5). A link to access the complete newsletter online is available below the article.

Peer coaching is a powerful tool for health. People can work with a Peer Coach on health challenges with a shared feeling of understanding.” ─ Catriona Bastian, Mind + Body Project Coordinator at SANE Australia

The challenge: mental illness and physical health

People affected by mental illness - especially severe, ongoing conditions - experience dramatically poor physical health. But it doesn't have to be like this...

As the recent Keeping Body and Mind Together report from the College of Psychiatrists notes, 'the lives of both men and women with serious mental illness are up to 30% shorter than those of the general population'.

Rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions are all significantly higher among people living with severe mental illness. Dealing with this challenge is the responsibility of all health professionals involved in care of someone. Psychiatrists, GPs, and even Case Managers, only see people periodically and have a range of issues to deal with. Community­based support services often see people every day, however, and provide a setting for people to learn from and encourage others.

That's why SANE Australia developed the Peer Health Coach program, to draw on shared lived experience and strengths. Peer input and support is an important principle in all of SANE's work, including the SANE Forums where people affected by mental illness and carers from all around the country are able to help each other.

The Peer Health Coach

The Peer Health Coach program draws on the peer workers' own experience of recovery, enabling people to set their own goals and work towards them in a practical way.

SANE has partnered with leading mental health organisation, Neami National, to recruit and train seven Peer Health Coaches in community-based support programs around Australia. Rather than 'preach' about healthy habits, the coaches engage one-on-one with people over six sessions to:

  • explore individual circumstances and motivations
  • identify concrete, achievable health goals and brainstorm how to achieve them, working with their strengths
  • encourage people to find solutions of their own, using coaching techniques rather than give direction
  • help people find and maintain motivation and confidence
  • guide people towards sustainable, successful changes in health behaviour

Since inception in 2012, 140 people have successfully completed the program, including residents of PARC (prevention and recovery care) centres.

The benefits

The benefits of the Peer Health Coach Program go beyond getting fitter, to broader, longer-term outcomes leading to a healthier lifestyle.

  • Health literacy
    Participants scored around 30% higher after the program in understanding of healthy behaviours, eating, and what better health meant for them personally.
  • Improved physical health and wellbeing
    As well as improved rates of exercise and smoking reduction, participants reported increased awareness of risk factors for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
  • Beyond physical health
    Participants also reported increased confidence, general welIbeing and feeling part of their local community.  
  • Achieving and sustaining goals
    Eighty-two per cent of participants reported having made healthy changes to their lifestyle. Seventy per cent had achieved health goal during the program, or were continuing to pursue them afterwards through self-management or with existing or new supports

With completion of the pilot project, SANE Australia is now developing guidelines so that the Peer Health Coach Program can be promoted and replicated around the country by other mental health organisations.

Case Study

“I worked with a woman who wanted to lose weight and had made some progress, but found it hard to stay motivated. Her original motivations of fitting back into old clothes and improving body image were important but not enough to maintain changes. We spent our final sessions talking about the deeper motivations for losing weight. We made a 'vision board' which was a collage using old magazines. This was really effective because it allowed her to think creatively and sink deeper into the issue. The board ended up with a strong focus on being a good role model for her daughter and providing nutritious meals for her child, which was then displayed in the kitchen as a reminder.” ─ Peer Health Coach

Working in partnership

SANE Australia is proud to be working on this project with Neami National, who are also a partner in our online Forums initiative.


You can access the newsletter in full at SANE News Winter 2015 Edition



News and events post type
Event start and end date